Most real problems in math, science, or life can’t be solved with a simple, cookie-cutter solution. Instead, real problems usually require applying knowledge in a novel way. We include many challenging problems in Beast Academy because we believe they help kids become flexible, logical thinkers who persevere in the face of challenge... Most kids find unraveling one challenging puzzle far more satisfying than mechanically completing pages of simple problems. —Beast Academy
In a world of black-and-white, drill-and-kill textbooks, a former math Olympian has created a strangely bright and innovative curriculum. Beast Academy is a series of math graphic novels for 3-5th grade. It features a group of colorful monsters who attend the eponymous Beast Academy. The monsters learn math in the classroom and in the real world, participate in math competitions, learn to handle success and failure, and champion positive attitudes, all while teaching a level of math that is far more challenging than your average 3-5th math textbook. For example, the third grade textbook starts right off with quite a bit of geometry. Fourth grade covers basic multiplication, exponents, and fractions, but also slips in a little bit of logic (and a section on binary numbers!)
How it Works:
There's no teacher's manual to be found for Beast Academy, and the curriculum is not particularly teacher intensive. No prepwork is required before jumping into the book, although some parents recommend going through each chapter and writing out beforehand which page numbers in the guides correspond to the problems in the practice books (this is provided in small type at the bottom of the guide pages and at the beginning of the practice chapters, but overeager readers can blow past it). Students can use these books independently, but teachers should work alongside them as coaches and "discussion partners." Parents may learn a thing or two alongside their students.
There are two books for every level: guides and practice books.
The guides are the textbook/comic books. They're divided into chapters that carry over from level to level within a grade (so 4A will have chapters 1-4, for example, and 4B will have chapters 5-8, etc.) Each chapter has a heading that shows you the sections within the chapter (about 4-6 sections per chapter), and under each section title is a leading question that teachers can use to clue their student into the point of the lesson. Keep an eye on the illustrations for the chapter headings; they often recreate famous or iconic scenes.
The chapters themselves follow the illustrated adventures of the monsters as they're introduced to concepts in math, either in a "real world" context or a classroom setting. Often a problem is presented and students are encouraged to try solving it before they're given the explanation. Occasionally there will be a "recess" section that takes a concept and turns it into a game for students to play around with. The subjects are taught topically, not cyclically.
In contrast to the colorful comics, the practice books are in black and white. The characters from the comics are carried over and show up at the top of the problem sets to give tips on how to solve them. There are two kinds of problems that you'll encounter in the practice books: normal problems and starred problems. Starred problems are going to be more challenging than normal problems (although normal problems are generally going to be more challenging than problems in other math books.)
Hints for starred problems and solutions for all problems can be found in the back of the practice books. Full explanations for each solution show students how to solve problems step-by-step, sometimes in a couple of different ways. Students are encouraged to read through the solutions even if they've answered it correctly a different way. The problems in these books are designed to stretch and challenge students, so they're a lot more like puzzles than sheets of basic math problems. There are no tests or reviews (although Beast Academy has some free assessment sheets on their website.)
Parents who want to complete a grade in one year should push for spending a little less than three weeks (five days a week) per chapter, or 3-5 days per section. However, teachers are expected not to rush their student through the practice problems. Because they are more challenging than a lot of other math books, Beast Academy recommends having students work on a time limit instead of trying to solve a certain number of problems every day. Some problems will be harder, and a student might only get that one problem solved in a single day of work, whereas other problems might go fairly quickly.
There's really no rush. Students who complete level 5 at 5th grade will be ready to start Art of Problem Solving's pre-algebra in 6th grade instead of 7th, so students who need to take more time going through the series have a lot of leeway.
Your student should be ready to start Beast Academy 3A if she's previously completed Singapore 2A/B, Right Start C, or Math Mammoth Grade 2 . There's a 2nd grade level in the works with plans to be completed in the fall of 2018.
If you're looking to use these books as a supplement rather than a full curriculum, you can choose to use just one or the other. Students who need a boost can use the guides as a way to kindle an interest in math concepts (they'll learn plenty, especially if they do the problems included in the guides). Students who are bored with their current math course can use the practice books as a series of challenging problems and assignments. You can always go with both, but together the course is challenging enough that one or the other may be sufficient work for a supplemental course.
Our Honest Opinion:
These colorful graphic novels are really cool, but don't let them fool you. This could be some of the toughest math your child has ever done. It will require perseverance, creativity, and a willingness to think outside the box.
Because this course is not as easygoing as it looks on the cover, we would caution parents that, while using it, there are two ways you can seriously dishearten your student. One is by picking it up for a student who is already struggling with math and not yet up to tackling Beast Academy's challenging problems and ideas. The other is by forcing students to approach it the way you approach any other math curriculum.
Beast Academy encourages your child to use creative and non-traditional approaches to problem solving, but if you're going to use it, you'll have to take a hands-off approach. This program expects kids to really work at and struggle through problems, so be prepared to let them fail at times.
Among other things, math is about giving kids the mindset to tackle challenging problems. That's why there's value in working through the kind of math book that will make students think hard, not just one that asks them to insert-formula-here. Beast Academy is not for every student, but we think those who are willing and able to stick with it will get a unique and effective math education.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here.
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